Community / Does a new dawn beckon for Whalsay’s Brough kirk?

Work is ongoing to explore a future use of the historic church, but only if the community is behind it

Photo: Shetland News

IT IS fair to say the kirk at Brough in Whalsay has to enjoy one of the most picturesque locations of any churches in Shetland.

Perched at the end of a tombolo, with a vast seascape dominating the backdrop, it is an inspiring sight – even for those not religiously inclined.

It is one of many kirks, though, that are due to be sold off by the Church of Scotland as it trims its estate portfolio in Shetland.

But there may be a new dawn on the horizon as a group makes plenty of progress behind the scenes on potentially keeping it in the community.

A meeting is being held from 7pm on Tuesday 6 June at the Symbister Hall to update the public on the process.

So far an options appraisal, which reflects feedback from islanders, has been put together by consultancy firm Community Enterprise.

A key preference for the community is for weddings and funerals to keep being hosted in the building – while there is support for other uses like an art and gallery venue or events space.


The B-listed church, which is valued at £15,000, dates back to the 1700s and is surrounded by an active graveyard.

Elsewhere on the island, which has a population of more than 1,000, there is the Symbister Kirk Hall, which is being kept on by the Church of Scotland.

Traditionally the Brough kirk closed over the winter months – access can be difficult in icy weather – and opened in the summer. It is still used for services.

A quick look inside the Brough church and it is fair to say it feels a tad dated, with not much TLC over the years; some sagging is seen on the upstairs ceiling, for instance, and damp is lurking in some corners too.

There is also is no mains water supply, and subsequently no toilet either.

Become a supporter of Shetland News


Even for a May day, with summer on the horizon, it threatens to be bitingly cold.

When inside the mind wanders back through the decades of people who would have been perched in the pews, with areas of seating said to be designated for folk from different parts of Whalsay.

But like most churches the congregation has reduced in size over the years.

There also happens to be an arched crypt around the back of the church which contains the remains of previous lairds.

It was back in 2022 when the Whalsay Kirk Development Company was formed to oversee the possible retention of the church for the island community, and it now features 12 directors.

After early consultation with the community the group received cash from the Scottish Land Fund to explore ideas further, with Malcolmson Architects involved in the process.

One idea for the downstairs space devised by Malcolmson Architects.

Some new uses of the building which have proved most popular include a cafe/meeting space, a visitor/community area and an arts and crafts venue.

Ideas such as an informal preschool space, bunkhouse style accommodation and co-working area were the least popular.

Some suggested plans drawn up by architects include a flexible, multi-use space in the downstairs; no pews, but one shows a cosy corner with seating and a wood burning stove.

An office or meeting area has been proposed for a room upstairs, and in what may be one of the more divisive ideas, an exhibition space has been drawn up by the architects in the crypt area which could offer visitors information about the lairds.

A key question is whether the Whalsay community is on board with the idea of redeveloping the historic building – especially if it goes beyond its traditional uses.


A spokesperson for the group said the majority are, with 76 per cent of consultation respondents in favour of a community buy-out if a viable future can be found for it.

Whilst weddings and funerals were the most popular future use of the building, there is a feeling within the group that there needs to be other income streams to keep it sustainable.

“It’s not a thing that would likely make a lot of money to keep it going, so that’s why you have to try and think of some other peerie things to keep it going,” the group spokesperson said.

The options appraisal said that the majority of feedback from the consultation “showed that people felt the building was important and should be protected against inappropriate private development or being left to deteriorate, and that it could deliver economic and social benefits to local people”.


It is a long game, though. Any future redevelopment could take years, it would likely eat up plenty of money – with the group contemplating an “in the meantime” use for the building if it is bought.

There is a desire, though, not to impinge on other local attractions, such as the Whalsay heritage centre.

The consultants’ options appraisal report recommends that the group proceeds to a business plan, and makes a bid to the Scottish Land Fund to secure the building.

They also suggest the group should apply for funding for a “further, more detailed phase led by an architect led design team to take the drawings and concept to the next level”.

There is talk about potentially employing someone for the project, but that is still some way off.

“If we take [the project] further we have to look to see if we have the ability and sustainability as a group to on with it as well,” the group spokesperson said. “If we can keep ourselves going and keep folk interested.”


North Isles councillor Duncan Anderson, who hails from Whalsay, said he wanted to wish the group the “best of luck” with the project.

“I always think it is good seeing members of the community work together to achieve something positive,” he said.

Meanwhile the Church of Scotland said it has agreed to a delay in the release of Brough church to allow the community more time to prepare a bid.

A spokesperson said the church recognises that the buildings it proposes to close have “significance and meaning” to those who have met and worshipped there.

There are no Shetland churches coming on the market in the near future, but there are a handful where the local community is being given time to build up support and investigate funding.

The spokesperson said the organisation has always been ready to work with any local communities who would like to take churches on.

Shetland transition minister Rev. Fran Henderson said: “I have been so impressed by the professionalism and realism of the Whalsay community group, as they look to the possibility of taking ownership of the Brough Kirk.

“I would be delighted if this results in a successful community bid, so that a beloved church is preserved and maintained.”

Become a supporter of Shetland News

Shetland News is asking its many readers to consider start paying for their dose of the latest local news delivered straight to their PC, tablet or mobile phone.

Journalism comes at a price and because that price is not being paid in today’s rapidly changing media world, most publishers - national and local - struggle financially despite very healthy audience figures.

Most online publishers have started charging for access to their websites, others have chosen a different route. Shetland News currently has  over 600 supporters  who are all making small voluntary financial contributions. All funds go towards covering our cost and improving the service further.

Your contribution will ensure Shetland News can: -

  • Bring you the headlines as they happen;
  • Stay editorially independent;
  • Give a voice to the community;
  • Grow site traffic further;
  • Research and publish more in-depth news, including more Shetland Lives features.

If you appreciate what we do and feel strongly about impartial local journalism, then please become a supporter of Shetland News by either making a single payment or monthly subscription.

Support us from as little as £3 per month – it only takes a minute to sign up. Thank you.



Subscribe to a selection of different newsletters from Shetland News, varying from breaking news delivered on the minute, to a weekly round-up of the opinion posts. All delivered straight to your inbox.

Daily Briefing Newsletter Weekly Highlights Newsletter Opinion Newsletter Life in Shetland Newsletter

JavaScript Required

We're sorry, but Shetland News isn't fully functional without JavaScript enabled.
Head over to the help page for instructions on how to enable JavaScript on your browser.

Your Privacy

We use cookies on our site to improve your experience.
By using our service, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy.

Browser is out-of-date

Shetland News isn't fully functional with this version of .
Head over to the help page for instructions on updating your browser for more security, improved speed and the best overall experience on this site.

Interested in Notifications?

Get notifications from Shetland News for important and breaking news.
You can unsubscribe at any time.

Become a supporter of Shetland News

We're committed to ensuring everyone has equitable access to impartial, open and quality local journalism that benefits all residents.

By supporting Shetland News, you play a vital role in ensuring we remain a pivotal resource in supporting the community.

Support us from as little as £3 per month – it only takes a minute to sign up. Thank you.